There’s a commonly used Greek saying that vividly portrays the painstaking process of making trahana: “Eho trahana aplomeno” (I’ve spread out the trahana). When used, the expression describes a time-consuming activity that requires constant attention. And that’s exactly what making this traditional Greek pasta is all about.
I always knew it was trahana-making season when there was nowhere to sit in our large village house. My grandmother would diligently spread her trahana out on white sheets all over beds, tables and any other flat surface available.
She made trahana in the summer so there was ample time for it to dry well and be ready for the long winter ahead. The pellet-like pasta made of flour and milk would dry away for days before she would carefully collect it in cotton bags and save for a cold winter’s day.
Made of flour and milk, trahanas comes in two basic varieties and each has its loyal followers: the sour (or ksinos) and the sweet (or glykos), and there are two sizes: the dense (hontros) and the fine (psilos).
It’s no fancy food and yet it has nourished generations of Greeks because it’s easy and quick to make and has an impressively long shelf life. Not to mention its nutritional value.
A complete meal, served with olives, bread, feta or grated myzithra cheese and red wine, one could safely say that trahanas is the king of Greek comfort foods.
Up until the early ’90s, every Greek household had their own homemade trahana in the kitchen cupboard – compliments of persistent grandmothers. Nowadays, it’s available at the supermarket and small village coops but unfortunately does not taste at all like what our yiayia’s did.
The basic recipe for making homemade trahanas from scratch is mixing flour and boiled fresh milk with salt and kneading into a dry tough dough.
The sour variety is made with sour milk or yoghurt. Using cow, sheep or goat milk affects the overall fat content. Once the kneading is done, you cover the dough with a wet towel and allow to rest.
I can clearly remember my grandmother standing over the long wooden table, the centrepiece of our village house kitchen, pinching oval pieces out of the dough with remarkable speed. Somehow she would manage to “pinch” all the bits into the same size so they could all dry evenly. She would then place them on the white sheets and do other chores. The house would smell of sour dough. Every now and then, with a quick pass of her hand she would flip the trahanas over to make sure it dried on all sides.
Once the pasta was dry enough, she would patiently rub the dried dough bits through the sieve in order to give them their final pellet-like shape. She would then again lay the trahanas out on sheets everywhere possible. This took days. Once it was ready, white cotton bags were ready to be distributed to family members, and some would even travel as far as snowy suburban Chicago.
Research indicates that trahanas dates back to antiquity as the continuation of porridge (Stephen Hill-Anthony Bryer, “Byzantine Porridge: Tracta, Trachanas and Trahana”). Whatever the case, today it has slowly but steadily made its way into international cuisine thanks to daring young chefs.
*Nutritionist’s note - Unlike your usual pasta variety which provides carbs only, trahanas is also a good source of protein thanks to one of its main ingredients: milk. It also has more fat than rice or pasta, but that isn’t a bad thing necessarily, since protein and fat will keep you feeling full longer.